To Web cache or not to?

Operators should seriously consider deploying their own caching solutions to realise the potential cost savings.

Read time 4min 40sec

In my previous Industry Insight, I touched on the benefits of caching and the compliance issues that surround it.

To expand on the benefits attached to Web caching, one needs to ask: just how effective is caching? According to a recent study by YUI, browser caching can increase speeds by as much as 300%.

Also worth keeping in mind is that by implementing caching, users aren't just making their Web sites faster, they're also making them perform better and equipping them to bear the burden of any sudden traffic spikes more efficiently.

I would now like to expand on why network operators should consider spending money in acquiring a Web caching solution if the end-user's device already does caching anyway.

Happy campers

The big benefit for operators lies in the general experience its subscribers will have when using their network, which, of course, translates into customer retention. It's all about faster reaction times for the subscribers. The importance of customer satisfaction should not be underestimated, something of which, I am certain, South African operators are well aware.

For the operators, there is the added benefit that they will not incur additional data costs if another subscriber requests the same information or data, therefore reducing operational expenditure.

Apart from the operator's reduced operational cost and the benefits of keeping the subscriber happy, the Web caching service may also reduce the operator's available bandwidth capacity on its network. This, in turn, reduces the load on the core or origin server. It is, however, important for the operators to ensure the set-up of the caching service is done correctly and it brings the cached information as close as practically possible to the user. This will avoid bandwidth congestion on the operator's network.

While Web caching does have its benefits for the operators, it should not be seen as the silver bullet.

Without a well set up and configured Web caching solution, traffic and bandwidth management, access control and content filtering functions become extremely difficult for any operator.

It is also important to choose the correct solution that will allow for preloading of specific content, either manually or automatically, at scheduled off-peak network times. The solution must be capable of purging specific content on the same basis and principle. The restriction of specific content (URLs and content types) needs to be possible within the caching solution, thereby ensuring the caching servers are not congested unnecessarily. The bandwidth management function of the solution should be capable of controlling the inbound and outbound traffic between the user, the cache server and the Web server.

Wait, there's more

A Web caching solution gives operators the further benefit of increasing their service offerings to the market, by allowing customer content to be preloaded onto the caching server. This is especially valuable for indoor wireless solutions deployed by the operators in shopping malls.

While Web caching does have its benefits for the operators, it should not be seen as the silver bullet that will solve all the bandwidth constraints for the operators. Ultimately, the need for higher bandwidth capacity at the operators' tower or building sites, where the operators deploy their antennas, can only be addressed by deploying optical fibre connectivity to the sites, as opposed to relying on wireless connectivity with limited bandwidth throughput capacities.

The main concern that can be raised as a negative aspect of Web caching is the potential security risk. Because cache information can contain sensitive data, it has to be protected from unauthorised access by the cache solution, which is what section 74 of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act, 25 of 2002, speaks to and requires.

Generally speaking, for Web applications, one would need to avoid caching confidential information on the user's browser in order to prevent possible access to the data outside of the control of the Web application. Web caching of login pages, for example, exposes the application to specific threats, such as taking the users' private information with a Web proxy. It is therefore crucial for operators to select the right solution for their network environment, with sufficient access control and content filtering functions to mitigate security risks associated with Web caching.

In my view, operators should seriously consider deploying their own caching solutions on their networks to realise the potential cost savings, enhanced customer experience and enablement of better and additional service offerings. These caching solutions should be implemented before 5G hits SA, because 5G will only increase the bandwidth demands on the networks in the country. After all, there's a reason why Google has spent so much money, and still continues to do so, on its Google Global Cache solution, because the company is seeing the increase in demand from Internet users around the world.

Caching is a technology that increases the speed of an operator's Web site, without sacrificing anything in the process. When used correctly, it will not only result in significantly faster load times, but also decrease the load on the server.

Basically, if Google is doing it - that should be a good enough reason for operators in SA to consider it.

Dieter Küsel
Contract manager at ZTE.

Dieter Küsel, contract manager at ZTE, has in excess of 25 years’ experience in the South African business and ICT arena. In that time, he has worked in a variety of areas, including commercial, operations, project, legal and financial management. He has a BLC LLB from the University of Pretoria, with further studies towards a BCom in financial management from UNISA. In November 2011, Küsel was appointed to the role of contract manager at ZTE. Prior to that, he specialised in commercial and contract management, with experience specific to the identification of commercial risks, opportunities and the development of sound responsive strategies.

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